Spiced ham

June 18, 2006

We all hate spam, everyone hates spam, every single person with an email address.  I bet even spammers hate spam – they must get it from others and be irate, just as you and I, the non-spammers, are.  (At least I hope so). 

But you know something, they wouldn't keep doing it if there weren't some people who bought stuff off them, because of spam.  I'm toying with the idea that that is indeed a greater crime than sending the spam in the first place.   Forget the laws against sending spam – let's deal with the demand side of the equation.  Although Death To All Who Buy From Spam is less catchy that Death To Spammers!

I probably accidentally delete legitimate emails when I shovel my inbox free of those nasty unsolicited emails from total and utter strangers trying to get me to:
a) Buy viagra, cialis, prozac, and Dog only knows what other "embarassing" drugs that many people assumedly don't want to have to go to the doctor to get.  (Surely you don't want to take these drugs unless you need them?  In which case, shouldn't you check out whether they are necessary with an expert first?)
b) Enrol in some dodgy "Internet University" to get a piece of paper that certifies I am a Doctor of Nanotechnology, which no one will believe, except possibly for strangers you meet in dating chat rooms online. 
c) Visit their porn site, to look at hot babes and assumedly start paying per view at some point, or clicking through to the ads on their sites so they get some dosh out of the time spent programming that 'bot to harvest addresses from the internet.
d) Help out the internet equivalent of a little old lady (the child of a deposed legitimate ruler of a little known third world nation) to get their money back, whilst taking a handy cut for myself which will inevitably turn into a total raid of my bank account and possibly the stealing of my identity.

Spamming enrages me because I can't escape it.  I got an Xtra address about a year ago specifically because of their spam filter.  I shelled out because I wanted to avoid the 100-odd spam emails I was getting every single day.  It worked for about 5 months, with only a few hardy spams making it through, but now it is as bad as ever. 

I'm quite cynical about Xtra's involvement in all this.  At first the spam was virtually non-existent, but now it's at least 100 a day (again).  If I'm away for a few days it mounts to uncontrollable levels.  Not that long ago Xtra started marketing an additional "Security Suite", which allegedly stops spam for a bit of extra cash in their pockets (and out of yours and mine).  Now the reason I switched to Xtra in the first place was because of the spam filter included – so what is the difference between the spam filter I allegedly already have and the one that costs (more) money?  My guess is it's the 100 spams a day that I'm getting now, which I didn't used to get…

I've also noticed that the free email addresses I maintain (Hotmail and Gmail) for using when my address will actually be available on the internet get little spam, and it is all, accurately, directed to the Junk Mail folder.  I'm not giving MSN or Google any money for this service, but I am paying Xtra.  So how come the free service can do it fine but the paid one can't?  A mystery that it's beyond me to unravel.

And by the way, there's an official website for actual SPAM (as in that which comes in a can), which is really quite witty.  Apparently the use of the term spam for unsolicited commercial email comes directly from the Viking Spam Skit in Monty Python.  It's good to know these things.


The sad tale of Mr Individual

June 15, 2006

The list of annoying workmates that I've blabbed about on here just keeps growing.  I suppose that's the beauty of working in a big school – there are lots of "interesting" characters to write about.

Mr Individual possesses the most non-teacherly personality I have yet encountered.  He seems to actively hate children, and in fact any woman who isn't available to him for sex.  Sure, he can stomach these people, be nice to them when it's necessary for his day to go more smoothly, but the things he says behind people's backs in the staffroom…  Well let's just say it's a lot worse than anything you'll read here.

His politics are somewhat out of place in our school, but Mr Individual has no shame about sharing them.  Not that he necessarily should hold them back, but he could probably anticipate some of the hostile reactions he gets to statements about how he shouldn't have to pay for free doctors' visits for children, because he has chosen not to have any.  This is a constant source of declaimation for him – he has no kids, so he shouldn't have to fund x, y or z with his hard-earned money.  (Yes he does seem to realise the irony that he is paid from the public purse, but he also openly advocates the privatisation of the schooling system, so that's ok.  He seems to have dreams about McDonalds operating the local primary, so that it churns out perfect little fast-food workers, while the really smart ones could go on to iPod College and have their brain juices harnessed by the computer corporations instead.)

I suspect the "choice" he's made about creating and rearing offspring has been made for him by the fact that he is quite unable to attract a long term partner of any gender whatsoever.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he's never even had a pet for more than three months. 

His constant objectifying of women, in a female-dominated profession, is like some kind of bizarre death-wish.  It enrages me on a regular basis, his rants about the women's beach volleyball, his desire to go on a Strip Club Crawl, not to mention his constant physical ratings of any woman mentioned in discussions about current events.  (The Prime Minister gets a 1 on Mr Individual's meter of attractiveness – I don't think she needs to worry though, having held the position of PM for seven years and been highly successful at it probably acts as a considerable cushion against the jealous rantings of a frustrated high school teacher who doesn't even warrant any management units.)  Of course he's not likely to find himself on any calendars as Mr September any time soon, but that doesn't matter – only women need be judged on appearance, and any woman would be lucky to have Mr Individual grace her bed even for just one night, apparently.

It's quite bizarre to find him working as a teacher, especially in a public school.  I have this theory that he started out his career all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but that something horrible happened to him, which changed him irrevocably from someone who loved to teach, to a grumpy curmudgeon, old and bitter before his time.  I wonder sometimes if Mr Individual's heart was broken by another teacher, or he was falsely accused of abuse (which must be a constant worry for male teachers these days). 

Now he seems stuck in a career he ostensibly hates, but he has too much inertia to retrain or try something else.  Instead he likes to spread his hate and malice around our staffroom, perhaps trying to infect others so that he doesn't feel so alone and vulnerable.  He feels like a total individual in a profession which values collectivity, so he tries to isolate everyone else too, with his nastiness and spite.

Strangely enough, I wish something nice would happen to Mr Individual.  Something so nice that it changed him for the better, something that spoke so undeniably of the benefits of being happy, of sharing things, of the strength that being part of a group can give you, that he had some kind of epiphany.  So that Mr Individual could start seeing the colour in life, and not just the shades of grey.  Oddly I find myself wishing him love, when I'm not so angry with him that I'm actively desirous of his violent and painful death.  Maybe love could crack out the human being inside Mr Individual's carapace of disdain.

Drizzling on my parade

June 10, 2006

So prosaic to vent about the weather, but it's undeniably getting me down.  Denting my normal sunny disposition (yes, really), the drizzle is unrelenting in it's hazy fall from sky to ground.

Why do I care?  Firstly sunny weather makes me happy.  Silly I know, but it's true.  I read somewhere once that sitting outside in the sunlight with no lenses protecting your eyes somehow increases the amount of seratonin in your brain.  Nature's Prozac if you will (pity about the cancerous contra-indications).

Secondly the sun means dry laundry.  It means avoiding that great power zapper, the tumble dryer.  I'm always torn about using the dryer – I love the feel of towels that have been through it, but it's such a waste of electricity and I feel less green every time I press that grimy start button.  Plus the decrepitude of our current dryer is so advanced that it often smells like it's burning.  Of course it isn't on fire, it just likes to make a fuss.  So all in all the sun is preferred for it's drying capabilities as well as it's propensity to bring me to smile more.

And I like clear weather because the sky is so beautiful when there are big patches of blue between the white and grey.  It makes me want to lie on my back in the grass and just gaze upwards in quiet contemplation.

Drizzle is a serious impediment to my love affair with sunny days.  It is surely the Brussels Sprouts of weather.  Unfortunately, where I live, we seem to have those pesky little Brassica oleracea gemmifera for our meterological dinner at least once a week.   

I suspect one day I will finally snap and in a fit of pique move to the Bahamas in the middle of the night.  They better not have drizzle there.

Pressing the self-destruct button

May 11, 2006

I’ve been thinking lately about some of the self-destructive behaviours that I engage in, with a view to perhaps ending them if I can. 

My first focus has been on my seemingly mindless computer gaming addiction, which formed when I was in my early teens, but was at that time subject to a certain amount of regulation from my parents.  These days I’m allegedly an adult and responsible for my own problems, so if I’m going to stop wasting time on the laptop on these games then I really need to step up to the plate myself and stop waiting for Mum to stride sternly into the room and tell me, finger wagging tensely, that it’s time for bed.

I often complain about my propensity to waste serious quantities of my limited spare time on stupid games, and I’ve taken to viewing the whole thing quite negatively.  But then someone asked me why I enjoy them, why I continue, why I started, and it took me a while to see my way through the fog of cons surrounding the issue for me. 

I’ve realised that a lot of the games I play are quite creative.  They’re about establishing something – a garden, a city, a diner.  And thinking about my previous political activities that was something I was drawn to as well – starting things up, getting them going, building. 

So perhaps the games aren’t entirely self-destructive.  Perhaps they are a way for me to express some creativity (albeit within limited boundaries) and do it in a safe way with little consequences.  In the end I have no responsibility for the citizens of the city I build on the laptop, and I can turn off or walk away whenever I want to.  But I still get to follow my urge to create new things, to respect and express my drive to do something, vaguely visionary (for want of a better word).

Which is not nearly as negative as I had thought.  Recognising what the games do for me might help me to channel the energy I spend on them into a more healthy expression, like planning and creating an actual real life garden. 

But before I start that, I just need to have one more turn…


Ms Snake and her strange disliking

April 28, 2006

Ms Snake is another one of my annoying workmates, along with The Old Duffer and The Dumper. Ms Snake and I used to get on very well, although I knew we weren’t really friends in the conventional sense.

Ms Snake is quite moody and has snitches against quite a few of the staff (especially those who aren’t teachers). But as we were around the same age and both independent-minded women, she seemed quite keen to get along with me at first. We went on a few lunches together (at which she would do basically all of the talking and interrupt and change the topic back to her if I did say something). We helped each other with work problems when they arose, we even texted each other about new shoe stores we had discovered. While I found her self-absorbed and arrogant, I also found her funny, at times very generous, and definitely smart, and we had enough in common to rub along nicely, as younger female teachers in a school dominated by those wedded to the older ways. So far, so sisters-in-arms.

But slowly everything seemed to change. Suddenly Ms Snake was quite silent about my role in a project she had asked me to help with – she still expected me to do the work but she actively hid my involvement from anyone in the management team. In fact she got highly snotty with me at one point when I was upfront with her about the fact that I was too busy to contribute much for the next month or two. This would hardly have come to her as a surprise as she knew all about the other work I had on my plate.

Ms Snake made it very clear to me that I was in fact not allowed to say no, despite her refusal to help me with something a week earlier because she was “snowed under”. (Funny how she found time that week to go to a clothing shop sale on one day during her release, and then disappeared for a three hour repast on another.) Apparently her “too busy” was to be respected but mine was not.

This was my second inkling that all was not right between her and I. The first was when she started excluding me from lunches which I normally would have come along to. I thought Ms Snake must be going through a patch of wanting some distance from me, so I was hurt but didn’t say anything, assuming her mood would pass.

But the exclusions from lunch continued (and continue to this day) and then there was this practical denial that I was helping her with her project.

Then on a Teachers Only Day we were supposed to share a ride to a course that all the teachers were expected to attend, four of us in someone else’s car. I turned up just as I had been told to by Ms Snake, and waited for her and the others. And waited, and waited and waited. Luckily I got a lift with another colleague in the end, but how juvenile can you get?

Read the rest of this entry »


April 9, 2006

When someone isn’t at school, cover is organised for their classes.  Sometimes a reliever will be called in, sometimes there will be a reshuffle within the department (or wider), to make sure there is a teacher standing up the front ready to impart wisdom, compel learning, and control the nicely riotous mob. 

I’ve already posted about my intention to take leave soon, for two weeks at the end of term when I’ll be on a course.  What I haven’t mentioned is my frustrations about the organisation of cover for these measley two weeks.  I shall enumerate these for clarity, in no particular order:

1.  The Dumper took fright at any suggestion that she cover any of the very small number of classes that she has been asked to deal with.  Every time I’ve tried to speak to her about my planning and arrangements during the forthcoming fortnight she has shrieked loudly that she doesn’t want to hear about it, and looked at me with the kind of stare usually adopted by horses suffering in the Outback heat and faced by a venomous snake on a narrow path with a sheer 50 metre drop on one side and an implacable cliff face on the other.  The amount of work she has to do is negligible (due to my preparation, which takes into account her nature), but don’t let that stop her from feeling very put upon indeed.

2.  Another colleague (who I am yet to do a nasty profile of as I don’t usually have to encounter him much) has kept trying to put the work back onto me, despite an earlier agreement between him and the HOD about exactly what he would work on.  He seems to be in some form of denial about the fact that I won’t actually be there to take the classes.  It’s like magical elves will pop up from the scuffed carpet squares and do it all for him.  I’m guessing his denial will cease five minutes into the first class when he realises that his disdainful attitude towards my attempts to prepare him were rather ill-advised.  I wish I could be there to watch.

3.  The reliever who is picking up a lot of my other classes is ok, and I’ve worked with him before.  But he needs to stop charging in.  He’s just doing a few classes for a couple of weeks.  Trying to rewrite the curriculum and aggressively solve the problems of every student in my classes is not a good idea.  For a start it couldn’t be done even if he had two years, and for a second if he succeeds it will make me look bad.  I’m worried he’s going to end up exhausted but looks like he is going to have to work that out for himself.  I might leave him a nice note about work-life balance for one final attempt to warn him…

4.  I’m getting rather fed up from the abandonment attitude a few of my colleagues are taking towards my leave.  I’m going to be absent for two weeks.  This absence is to go on a course.  I am not exactly swanning off for a $100,000 cruise through the Mediterranean for several months, complete with a holiday fling with an attractive Italian, and a beautiful tan to make them all green with envy.  Frankly they can leave the snarky “lucky thing” comments at home.  Or perhaps they could get off their lazy arses, find some professional development that they want and can justify, and apply to the BOT for funding and leave. 

I should point out that I have not imposed this rearrangement of my work on these people – in fact it has been organised in conversation with my HOD and is quite commonplace.  I have been known to cover for others when they have been away for whatever reason, and I just accept it as part of my job from time to time.  Usually it is a great opportunity to face some new challenges, expand your knowledge, and also legitimately put off a whole lot of petty tasks that you are trying to avoid. 

Well, I look forward to coming back and finding out just how they got on… 

Ventoletta is puzzled

April 5, 2006

Now it's not that often that I venture out into the broader NZ blog scene, although in the past it has had some happy outcomes (e.g. finding Capitalism Bad).  Most of the NZ blogs I find a bit dull – they are either quite personal (and thus not so interesting, much like The Vent Box must be to outsiders) or intensely right wing and therefore dire, irritating and wrong all in one handy package.

But today I slowly ambled into the lot and kicked a few tyres, very lightly. 

Pretty quickly I discovered someone who I personally think is a bit of a fruit loop.  Now I didn't want The Vent Box to be one of those blogs that attacks real people by name, and then they find it years later when they do an ego-search on Google and are driven into an insane rage that turns them against the world, resulting in another wasted vote for the Libertarianz.  But this guy has put himself out there for public life and as such I think it's ok to venture an opinion, although I will keep my claws sheathed and just bat him around a bit, seeing as how he might read this.

The man in question is Trevor Louden and he writes at the blog New Zeal.  He appears to be dedicated to mapping and exposing some ginormous left-wing conspiracy, which I humbly venture exists only in his head. 

He's also the Vice President of the Act Party.  Which frankly wants to make me put on my blue jeans and do my happy dance, because he sounds like just the person to keep Rodney Hide on his diverting, muck-racking, poll-diving track.  As a school teacher it will surely come as no surprise that I identify as somewhere left of centre, and much of what Act preaches (even before you look at their education policies) scares the nail polish off my toe nails.  For Hide to be wasting time promoting himself rather than pushing his party's policies out into the public eye (hopefully to get run over by a huge truck carrying that set of textbooks we're waiting for) is fantastic.

But back to Mr Louden. 

Trevor has this obsession with who had dinner together back in 1982.  Apparently having broken bread with a vague left-winger, been to a conference a no-longer avowed socialist spoke at, or being related (thrice removed) to a known owner of the Communist Manifesto, somehow makes a person irretrievably part of the Four Legs Good brigade.

It's all a bit student politics isn't it?  Keeping files on people tracking their employment and activist histories, not to mention a little notebook of who's friends with who, and then spewing it all out into the WWW, as some kind of evidence of evilness. 

Someday someone is going to turn the tables on Louden (as if being in the same party as Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble wasn't damning enough).  I look forward to his response when that day comes.

Picture found at the wonderful Tony's Photo of the Day site.

Avoiding the big story

April 1, 2006

I've been trying to ignore the Louise Nicholas rape trial, but it's everywhere.  I've heard music DJs try to turn into into witty jokes on their shows, and I just grimace and change the station.

I'll state it honestly – I believe Mrs Nicholas.  I know things about this trial which I shouldn't, which have further solidified my discomfort and sadness.  To stumble across a front-page full page banner headline* roaring that the victim is lying, as in the NZ Herald earlier this week – it was like a slap in the face to me.  I can only imagine what it must have felt like to someone who has actually been the victim of a rape or sexual abuse, or indeed to Louise and those who care about her. 

I nearly had a huge row about it in the staff room the other day.  It was spawned by my frustration that the men in the dock are probably going to be found not guilty.  In my humble opinion, to date the defence has possibly cast enough doubt, and smeared Louise Nicholas sufficiently, for the jurors to not have the certainty required for a guilty verdict.  I've sat on a jury, and I know how they work.  It makes me despair.

I wonder how many other women out there are trying to avoid this case too?  How many have made complaints about mistreatment by authority figures, particularly men and especially police, and not been believed?  How many more women have been raped or assaulted by people they should have been able to trust, and then not believed by those who should have taken them at their word?  To be in these situations is almost to be raped twice – to suffer the humiliation, disrespect and subjugation over again when you, rightfully, complain.

Let me be totally clear – false allegations of rape are not acceptable.  But my experience and observation has been that rape is probably the most under-reported of crimes.  And there are reasons for that.  The media coverage of the Louise Nicholas trial illustrates several of them clearly. 

Firstly many women are too ashamed and upset to face the fact that they have been raped, let alone report it.  Particularly when the assault has been perpetrated by someone you know, which is the case with the vast majority of acts of sexual violence, subsuming what has happened to you may be the only way to cope.  Talking yourself out of acknowledging the truth is a form of defence, because what really happened it is too shattering to deal with.

Secondly the attitude of police towards rape victims is known to vary widely – from kind and appropriate treatment and vigilant prosecution of the rapist, to disinterest and form-filling, to open hostility and disbelief.  Who knows which kind of officer you'll get when you try to report it?

Thirdly, there's the public shaming – the trial by media.  It is supposed to be the three police officers who are on trial in this case, not the victim.  And yet the past of Louise Nicholas has been brought up time and time again.  In contrast, I know of significant and relevant information from the history of some of those on trial which is not legally allowed to be raised at all. 

I know that those accused have rights, and usually I am a vigorous defender of them, but it seems to me that when it is those in power who are in the dock those rights are often abused.  I haven't done any research on this, but I'd be really interested to compare coverage of rape trials where the accused was someone not in the elite – someone not white, well-off or male.  I would be prepared to lay a bet that the media, and the defence, in that case focused on the accused rather than the victim.

*I have to wonder – what other news has featured such a headline?  Usually the Herald front page layout has two stories above the fold, one with a big headline and one with a big picture.  But on this occasion there was only the one story, grabbing both a banner right across the page (when the headline usually only goes part-way across) and a big picture underneath.  It's a "glory spot" usually reserved only for declarations of war, bombings of major English-speaking cities, or heroic sporting feats.

Things that go missing in the night

March 26, 2006

I hate it when I can't find things. 

I'm usually very organised, I keep things in the same place all the time, returning them promptly.  Unfortunately the person I live with does not follow similar rules, meaning things are frequently hard to find.  Especially as my partner tends to leave looking for them until the last minute – usually it isn't my problem, as I'm not the one looking. 

But right now it is me who is frantically hunting for something lost and it's driving me to consider how I would look with just tufts of hair sprouting from my scalp…

Of course I don't think I was the one who misplaced it, but it just doesn't seem to be anywhere in the house and it is needed for first thing in the morning.  I know where it would be if I had used it last (in the hall cupboard) and the fact that it's not there suggests that it was someone other than me who had it most recently. 

Trying very very very hard not to blow my top at said partner right now.  Hence this little mini-vent.  Let's hope it's worked.

Clash of the covers

March 23, 2006

And now for a source of undeniable irritiation, but at the same time irresistable attraction – “women’s” magazines.

For a start I hate that they are called “women’s” magazines, usually disparagingly.  We need to find another name for them – how about “Celebrity Gossip Mags” or “Journals of Images Designed To Make You Feel Bad About Yourself And Hate Your Fellow Sisters”?  Or even “Contradictory And Untrue Stories About Famous People Plus Some Really Rather Good Recipes”?

It’s frustrating.  If you read the back part of these mags, minus the back four or five pages of minor celebrity gossip that didn’t make it on to the cover, they’re actually not that bad.  They have recipes, parenting advice, witty columns, letters from readers, puzzles, and the ever-amusing horoscopes and psychic columns.  Removing the seemingly obligatory weightloss rubbish* and other articles that are bad for your body image, and ditching the “news” about people who seem to be largely famous for having their photos in magazines, would improve them no end.

What never ceases to crack me up is the clash of the covers.  Each magazine apparently competes for the photos and stories that will sell the magazine to the reading public – namely the newest scandal or sensation about a movie star or model and their relationship (or lack of).  And yet, kind of like creation stories, they all seem to be equally false.

Every week the covers will contradict each other, often quite hilariously.  At the height of the Pitt-Anniston-Joulie saga three magazines would have three different messages (and accompanying photos) – Brad and Jen Back Together?  Anniston Finds New Love!  Angelina and Brad pregnant at last!! 

How much of it is true?  Probably none of it.  Particularly this week.  One cover proclaimed that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes (the new Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston apparently) were already married (apparently this is a shock and also very important indeed).  Another stated boldly Katie Cracks:  The Trush Behind Those Split Rumours, with, of course a story of a distraught and heavily pregnant Holmes.

I tend to feel sorry for these people, although I probably shouldn’t.  My partner is always pointing out to me that they court this attention and as such should just have to eat it up when it turns on them.  But if I had to conduct my life, and in particular my relationship, in the hot glare of the paparazzi camera, I wouldn’t cope with the strain for long. 

I think about the Anniston-Pitt break-up, and I consider all the rumours, for all those years, running to what must be millions of column inches, predicting a break-up or a baby, scrutinising their body language in shots at a movie premiere, speculating on why they didn’t have children yet, reporting rumours of various affairs or fights.  There seemed to be pressure on them, since the day they were married, to divorce, and even now that that is happening the publicity doesn’t let up.  Some people even seemed perversely happy that their marriage was over – I saw comments online that indicated the sad authors thought they now had a chance with Brad or Jennifer themselves.  I guess when the people on the pedestal fail your own inability to keep a relationship going doesn’t seem so bad, perhaps.

I find it depressing that so many women, who are in fact intelligent and savvy, spend time and money on these magazines, when publications that are a bit less self-loathing and a lot more interesting fail (can you tell I was a Grace fan?)  But ultimately I love having a flick through when I’m at the doctor’s – it must be the pretty pictures because I really can’t explain the attraction.  But as irresistable as a quick look is, I’m yet to give any of my money over the counter for one.  Yet.
* Seriously, if anyone told you you could make your ears smaller by rubbing oil on you’d think they were mad, but somehow if it’s your thighs it’s possible
PS – Picture found on a page with a blog post about the self-loathing inherent in Fashion Week, which seemed somehow appropriate.